IT surprised me that I couldn’t remember the name of the place. Over lunch, a colleague asked me to recommend a place in the south for a Holy Week break.
Since she had two young children, only one place came to mind: long sandbar, rooms overlooking the cove, an endless view of the horizon that effortlessly competed with the reading.
To my listening friend, I rattled off other places should they go east or west. But after I trailed off, I found my way back to the unmentioned place, to that room, once the favorite of the family. When the sun set low in the afternoons, between the small veranda and the room where the slimy sea-bronzed creatures called boys tracked sand and seaweed, the cotton curtains, washed to gossamer wisps, fluttered in the breeze exhaled by the retreating sea.
This is another year when we’ve varied our Holy Week jaunts. I think it is because the boys are growing fast; my sons and nephews have plans and dreams that I’ve long given up plotting in a linear schedule.
Last year, it was the mountains. But you can hardly get young people to wake up early enough to watch the fog creep in, swirl in tentative exploration before creeping out as silently again. Waking to its telltale moisture, young people make small yelping sounds and almost bring down the tent in a rush of concern for their gadgets and what the excessive dampness might have done to those tender circuits.
But for those who want to get away from it all, whether it is the heat and inactivity of Holy Week, or something more, the sea reigns almost supreme.
Unlike the stolid fog, the sea is mercurial. Sleeping in a tent once, I was drawn to a tinkling sound that grew steadily louder. The sound was a golden rope I grasped to pull myself out of a hole. When I opened my eyes in the dark of our tent, the tinkling became a muted roar: most likely, a drunk was emptying his incontinent bladder near my ear.
I kicked my husband awake so he could redirect the fellow to a proper urinal. Instead, I found the sea lapping at our feet. Overnight, the tide had risen. In the mountains, when you lay down your head to sleep, you don’t expect to wake up, swinging, from the topmost branches.
But when the children barely reached my waist, a tent afloat in the heaving ocean wasn’t a prospect to be welcomed. That was how we found our room in that place.
It had a veranda for spotting communes of sea urchins, a whale shark straying far from its route, the sanity-saving sight of the lady bringing the trays of breakfast.
Best of all, its spacious toilet had a retractable shower head that could flush out the most stubborn grits of sand that wormed its way in the most impossible recesses of a wriggling child’s body. There was a generous wooden ledge to arrange masks, goggles, snorkel sets, pails, spades and other accouterments of beach life.
The only thing that worried me was the old-fashioned doorknob. Because I was wary about the dial getting stuck, I forbade the younger boys from locking the door when they showered. Last night, I dreamt of that other room and its toilet with the old-fashioned lock. With the door always kept slightly ajar, it was no wonder ribbons of sea grass and sand ended up with the sleeping boys in their mats.
How she could have hanged herself on the old-fashioned dial of that doorknob makes me still wonder. A few years ago, the papers reported the incident. On a week night, the girl from the city checked in. When she did not emerge the day after, the staff visited her room—that room—and saw the body hanging from the noose suspended from the old-fashioned dial that turned clockwise to lock.
Now, when we go down south, the boys vote to go for other destinations. Certainly, they are older; day by day, they become uncharted territories. The colorful plastic toys of their sea escapades I may take down from the shelf when my nieces come to visit. They, at least, will not have read the papers.
When she lay down her head that night, I hope that the sea in her ear transported her.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 23, 2008 issue